Assessing Our Community’s Needs

Every five years, the Legal Services Corporation charges its grantees to go into their communities and assess the most pressing needs within their region. After a year-long process of interviews, analysis, and surveys, CLSMF, with the assistance of Savvy Suit, created a report that identifies and details the six most crucial needs in CLSMF’s region. Among the many needs assessed, the two most pressing needs are 1. affordable housing and 2. employment opportunities that pay a living wage. Interviewees discussed these two obstacles far more often than any others. Surveys and interviews also noted four additional needs, including: family stability, education, physical safety, and healthcare. 

Florida has 7.5 million households, of these, 3.3 million people live in poverty or below the ALICE Threshold. (“ALICE is an acronym for Asset Limited, Income Con-strained, and Employed. ALICE households have incomes above the Federal Poverty Level, but still struggle to afford basic household necessities.”) 

Almost half (44%) of all households in Florida could not afford basic needs such as housing, child care, food, healthcare, and transportation in 2015. To meet the demand for affordable housing, Florida needs an additional 527,000 to 675,000 lower cost rental units. Contributing to this system of scarcity are Florida’s low paying jobs. Over and over again during interviews, we heard that unemployment had decreased, but people still didn’t have the income they needed. While Florida’s overall unemployment is at 3.8%. It’s vital to note that 44.5% of newly added jobs are low wage, with an hourly rate of $10/hr or less. At these wages, hundreds of thousands of residents are unable to make ends meet. 

Further complicating the employment arena is access to adequate transportation. The average commute in CLSMF’s service area is 24 minutes, but for low-income people that time can be much higher if they must rely on public transportation. Survey responders noted that low-income people often have less reliable personal vehicles or spend hours navigating the Central Florida bus system. 

Investing in access to adequate education initiatives is crucial to the community as fifteen percent of the 300 lowest ranked public schools (K-12) in Florida are within CLSMF’s region. Layering poverty and homelessness on top of the lack of educational opportunities creates even bigger issues for these students. The CLSMF Children’s Rights Unit engages in widespread advocacy including litigation, collaboration, education and community activism to provide equal access and opportunity to children systemically discriminated against by virtue of disability, racial, ethnic, or socio-economic status. With the data that was uncovered regarding the state of education in the community, the work of this unit will continue to be of critical importance over the next five years. 

Access to healthcare rounded out the top six needs in Central Florida. Both client-eligible participants and community partners stated healthcare as a pressing need which tells us that CLSMF must continue to pursue its work in public benefits to aid in access to healthcare for qualified individuals through Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security benefits. Additionally, CLSMF will continue to establish Medical-Legal Partnerships, leveraging medical and legal professional teams and embedding them in healthcare facilities to create greater, holistic impact for clients. 

The Community Needs Assessment explored the multitude of challenges facing CLSMF’s community illustrating each need in detail, describing the social landscape of all of CLSMF’s counties, and highlighting the information collected from CLSMF’s people. With this data, CLSMF is prepared to invest in its programs to address these six most critical needs in Central Florida. Additionally, we will cultivate community partnerships that align with our organization’s goals to incorporating a holistic approach to service the needs of the community. CLSMF is committed to ensuring that access to justice for all is of the utmost priority in the years to come. 

If you would like a copy of the Needs Assessment call (407) 480-4510.